The Waiting Place

The Waiting Place….for people just waiting

Waiting for a train to go

or a bus to come , or a plane to go

or the mail to come , or the rain to go

or the phone to ring , or the snow to snow

 or waiting around for a Yes or No

or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.

(From: Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss)

I love Dr. Seuss. But, I think he might have oversimplified the Waiting Place. I’ve been in the Waiting Place since after Christmas when my mother became sick and died. I waited in her hospital room every day while she was transitioning from this life… (to another?) And every day since her passing, I’ve been waiting to see what my life will become without the responsibility (and pleasure) of caring for this person who was the focus of so much of my attention these last six years. While I’ve been waiting, I’ve been taking care of business, travelling, and pursuing my creative interests, but it’s been waiting none the less. I think this is the nature of transitions. It’s that place between what was and what’s to come. Dr. Suess calls this “a most useless place”. Here’s where I disagree. I think it’s a difficult place, but not a useless one. Change rarely happens overnight or on a pre-determined schedule. His words do, however, carry a fair warning. There’s a danger of getting stuck in this Waiting Place. Sometimes we forget that we’re only meant to be there temporarily while our systems are  adjusting  and preparing for the change to come.

And the change will come.

One morning we’ll  wake up and realize that it’s spring. The robins who’ve been waiting too are suddenly singing at dawn with their newly found purpose. The  recently frozen ground cracks and the first shoots appear. The ponds unthaw and running water is the background melody again.

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All in the right time. The waiting somehow makes this so much more exquisite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agua de Jamaica

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I’m not sure how I missed this drink. I was probably busy trying all the different flavoured margaritas. Mango, anyone? Tamarind? Passion fruit? Classic?

This was not my first visit to Mexico, but it was the first time being introduced to what has become my new favourite drink, agua de jamaica  (pronounced hah-My-kah).

It turns out, jamaica, or hibiscus, is an infusion that is served either hot or cold and is popular all around the world. It is made from the the calyces (sepals) of the roselle or Hibiscus sabdariffa flower.

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I bought bags of jamaica from the little tienda where I was staying for 12 pesos for a 100g bag. It’s available here in health food stores and speciality shops or can be purchased online.

I wasn’t quite expecting the beauty of jamaica when it was first served to me icy cold on a sweltering afternoon. The deep magenta/maroon colour was just so rich and appealing.

Not only is agua de jamaica beautiful, but it’s also thirst quenching and full of Vitamin C.  It’s slightly tart so is often  served with some sugar or honey added. This drink will certainly “up your iced tea” game in the summer, so I thought I’d include a recipe of sorts. This will make about 8 cups.

Agua de Jamaica

Ingredients:

4 cups of water

1/4 to 1/2 cup dried jamaica flowers (hibiscus)

1/2 cup of sugar (or to taste)  *I used less because I rather like the tartness.

Another 3 or 4 cups of water

1 lime thinly sliced

Optional:  1/2 cinnamon stick, thinly sliced ginger, a few allspice berries.

Directions:

Add:  4 cups of water and 1/2 cup of sugar (or to taste) to a saucepan of water. If you are wanting to add some of the optional flavouring ingredients, now is the time to do so. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and bring the water to a boil. Once boiled take the pan off the heat and add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of jamaica flowers. Cover and leave to steep for fifteen to twenty minutes.

Strain the infusion into a pitcher or jug. You can leave this concentration in the fridge and add the additional water when ready to serve or you can do so now. The recommended amount of water to add to this concentrate is 3 to 4 cups depending on the strength you desire.

Serve: Pour into glasses over ice cubes. Add a slice of lime and your agua jamaica is ready to be enjoyed.

If an individual serving of  hot or cold jamaica is desired,  put a pinch of jamaica in  your teapot, add boiling water, and steep for about five minutes. Strain and add sweetener.

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Things That Go Bump In the Night

And the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws. 

Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are)

Night noises can usually be explained when I’m at home in my own bed. That loud cracking that jolts me awake on the coldest of winter nights? The wood in the house getting a bit testy because of thermal contraction and expansion. The ruffling noises in the wall? Mice are in the insulation again. (I make a note to myself in my half awake state to buy a mouse trap or get another cat – which oddly seems like a good idea at two o’clock in the morning.) The distant rumbling sound? One of the few trains that ply the tracks in this mountain valley. Yes, all the night sounds are usually explainable and only a minor distraction.

Night noises here in Mexico take on a whole new level of urgency. On one of the first nights here as I was falling asleep, I heard a loud chirping/cackling sound coming from the bathroom, which just happens to be located about a foot and a half from where I sleep. My husband nonchalantly suggested that I get up to investigate. Was he kidding me? I keep  a flashlight beside me at night so that I don’t unwittingly step on a scorpion if I have to get up, but what good could that possibly do if I met this?

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Or this.

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Or this.

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Or worse…

I lay there for awhile contemplating my options and decided that I wasn’t going to sleep anyway, so I might as well take a peek. Picking up my flashlight, I tentatively moved the curtain aside and….saw nothing on the floor, or in the shower, or in the sink. I’m breathing by now and the beams from my flashlight probe the walls. That’s when I see this.

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Our resident gecko. Who knew a little-ish thing could make such loud, disturbing sounds?

Feeling calmer now, I decided to return to bed. I climbed in, turned off my flashlight and put it safely back under my pillow.

Let the wild rumpus start!

The Living Village

I grew up in a small town.  I remember sitting on the bottom step of the staircase and looking out the window on frigid winter nights. Seeing  the smoke curling out of our neighbours’ chimneys warmed me as much as our furnace rumbling away in the basement.  It reminded me that we were all connected in our need for warmth – and each other.

I haven’t lived in a town for the last thirty-five years and sometimes I miss it, which probably accounts for my returning to this Mexican village on vacation. Yelapa is a small town built on a steep hillside in Jalisco, Mexico. It reminds me of the genesis of all villages. It was reportedly first settled by four families who had come down from the village of Chacala high in the mountains. The town has grown since then but its growth is limited by the mountains and the sea. Most supplies still come in by small fishing boats. There is a very rough road leading to the ancestral village of Chacala, but it’s not always passable and even it doesn’t directly enter the village. There are no cars here.

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The village awakens slowly in the mornings. The sun doesn’t rise above the mountains until after seven. The first water taxi leaving for Boca is the only movement on the sheltered harbour but is soon joined by fishing boats leaving for the day. The few little grocery stores (tiendas) open after 9:00. The village awakens slowly but work and pleasure continue well into the evening hours when the sun isn’t as hot. It’s a different rhythm dictated by climate and geography and culture.

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Most people live and work in the village. They fish, or help on construction sites, or use their horses and burros to haul supplies. And nowadays, of course, there is the tourist industry which keeps many people busy.

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One of my biggest pleasures here is walking along the stone path to the center of the village in the evening. The villagers have gathered on their stoops now and have a “hola’ or “buenos noches” for everyone passing by. We begin to recognize each other as time goes on and the smiles become warmer and the greetings longer. For a short while, we are welcomed into this little living village on the side of a mountain in Mexico.

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The flip side to all this connection, of course, is that everyone knows everyone else’s business and there are stories floating around about this person or that one.  I remember it was just this storytelling, often tinged with some judgment, that had me less than enamoured with small town life when I was an adolescent.  It never discounts, however, that everyone has a place in the fabric of the town and the connections run deep and last forever.

It’s nice and I miss it.

What Kind of a Traveller Are You?

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A lone street light illuminates the walk home after dinner. (Yelapa, Mexico)

A confession: I have never gone on an all inclusive holiday, been part of a group travel package, or taken a cruise. It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy these experiences, it’s just that I haven’t been drawn to them.

I am not the kind of traveller who needs to be up at 6:00 in the morning to make an early start on seeing all the sights and tourist attractions. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. For me, most days start with a morning stroll to a local café or breakfast spot. I’ll see where the day takes me from there. Sometimes it’s a trip to a market (I always check out those) or a walk to a waterfall, or vineyard or….

I do check out a destination before I visit and may have a rough plan of some of the places that I might like to see, but there is nothing set in stone and I’m rarely disappointed if my trip is over and I haven’t managed to see or do the things on my list. That’s because most of the things I ended up doing were spontaneous, suggested by locals, or experiences I just happened upon that were so much more appealing than anything I read in a book or saw online.

There are always adventures to be had when travelling, especially if you find yourself off the beaten path. You might have to share your chair with something like this.

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Or guard your bananas against night time visitors.

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But, oh the stories you’ll have to tell!

What kind of traveller are you?

Grid

I’m a huge Instagram fan. I love photos – well composed ones,  evocative ones,  ones that are the holders of memories. I have been curious lately about the grid of photos that we see when we click on a profile in Instagram.  I’ve noticed that some of the people with the most followers have a very curated looking grid of pictures.

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Here is one example.
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And another.

Their photos seem to all have the same style, light quality, and spectrum of colours. I must say I was a bit impressed that anyone could maintain this consistency. My photos seem to be all over the place. I have warm whites and cool whites, pictures of food interspersed with photos of family, and a whole slew of nature pictures thrown into the mix. It’s a hodgepodge.

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The latest grid you’d see on my Insta feed.

Yes, there’s an old family photograph, a few seasonal pictures, some food, a picture of a shawl I knit, and my calligraphy  supplies for a course I’m taking.

I have to admit,  I thought about making my grid more cohesive, perhaps more appealing to those people who happen on my feed and might want to follow me. But in the end, it’s not a brand I’m trying to create, it’s a life I’m trying to live.

The Sap Is Rising

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The first harvest of the season is underway here in southern Québec. The success of this harvest is dependent on the perfect combination of below freezing nights and mild days. We’ve had a few of those perfect days, but in the last week or so the daytime temperatures didn’t go above freezing. The sap flow stops on those days and the busy maple syrup producers, who are often farmers as well, continue on cutting wood, birthing calves, plowing driveways…  I think you get the picture. They’re very busy people.

Drinking the first sap is built into our DNA – at least my DNA.  Here are my parents circa 1948 doing just that.  My mother is recently arrived from England in this picture and obviously hasn’t purchased her Canadian “going out in the woods”  clothes yet.

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We haven’t been to a “cabane à sucre”  this year to see the sugaring process in full swing,  but we did tap a lone tree not far from the house and stopped at it yesterday on our way back from a cross country ski to quench our thirst.

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Another nor’easter has blown in today. It is snowing heavily now and the fire is lit. We’re staying close to home to wait it out. The trees will be waiting it out too. It’s like that this time of year.

 

 

It’s Not as Easy as It Looks

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When I saw the drill sheets for week one, I almost laughed. Easy peasy, I thought. In fact, I was wondering if I was going to be bored with this whole learning calligraphy thing.

And then I started. Who knew? First of all, it took weeks of detective skills to track down the special pens I could choose: big brush, small brush, hard tip, soft tip, pointed pen, nib holders… and the list goes on and on. Even Amazon seems to have to look to Japan for some of the pens. The ones I ordered on February 3 have still not made it here yet. And that’s just the pens.

I’ve also been visiting paper supply stores and “petting” all of their stock feeling for just the right smoothness. Most of the papers we use all the time are quite abrasive and can apparently wreak havoc on pen nibs and tips. Rhodia has  a paper that is very smooth, a high grade vellum. Pens just seem to want to write on this surface.

The drills started this past Monday and were accompanied by a video. How hard can this be? A simple upstroke and downstroke and a combination stroke. It turns out, it can be very hard! There’s slant and pressure and holding the pen in the right way to get those nice thin and thick lines. Just to demonstrate, I am showing you some of my first results.  Yes, those ARE “drunken cobras” you are seeing where a downstroke should be.

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Now that I’ve been humbled, I can see I have work to do. Apparently people can become quite tense while practicing and some people have suggested a glass of wine and relaxing music. I can do that. My teacher has suggested yogic breathing as being helpful too in getting the right speed and rhythm. Inbreath up, outbreath down. You laugh, but this is probably the most helpful piece of advice I’ve received so far. It seems we all go way too fast, especially in the beginning. Isn’t it amazing that in calligraphy, as in most things in life, the secrets to success  are the same:

  • Relax
  • Breathe deeply
  • Exercise

If anyone else is interested in learning calligraphy, I have included the link here to the online course I’m following.

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Fragments

Weaving in the Ends

I started this scarf/shawl while my mother was dying in the hospital. Knitting was a way to calm myself while accompanying my mother on her last days. And I think it calmed her too.  Knit, purl, knit….. a steady incantation in a predictable pattern, like breathing.  Knitting was one of the womanly arts that was big in my mother’s life and in her mother’s life before her.

It is now March and the scarf is almost finished. It continued to work its magic over the months since my mother’s passing as memories of a long life lived arose and faded while I knit.  I’ve had a hard time finishing it, but I have a hard time finishing most things. Now it’s time to weave in the ends of which there are many, as you can see. Fitting, I guess.

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The Crows are Gathering

The spring migration of crows has reached our area. Now as I lie in bed in the early morning light, I hear the birds awaking too. The crows have been the first to break winter’s silence. Robins won’t be far behind. Migrations are happening as they should which feels comforting in a world so full of bluster and chaos these days.

Something New

I have some new socks on my knitting needles. I joined the Handmade Sock Society during the winter. I just loved the name. It speaks of a different time when people gathered for simpler reasons. Except now, of course, we gather online – hashtag handmadesocksociety. I love knitting socks, they suit my practical nature.  I rarely knit socks with patterns, but I’m making an exception so that I can be a society girl.

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Winter Rose socks.

And…

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Today I start learning calligraphy.  I’ve always felt this pull to create with my hands. It’s something passed down to me from my mother’s lineage – they were knitters, and dressmakers and midwives.

I guess all of this is just another way to weave in the ends.

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I Was Going to Write…

I was going to write about the woes of March. I was going to call her a lyin’, cheatin’, bad friend full of broken promises. I was gathering sad pictures to prove my point.

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Our sad woodpile with only one row left.
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Our very sad, muddy road full of potholes.

But then something shifted. I had written earlier that our love or hate for winter was a question of attitude. If that was true, and transferable to other seasons, my loathing of March and April might be in need of a serious attitude adjustment.

My body tenses just thinking about March and April. My mind is wanting to embrace the beautiful idea of spring but my body memory tells me of cold, northerly winds, fast  moving weather systems  that dump 30+ centimetres of wet snow overnight, and interminably grey skies. We don’t have spring in southern Quebec, we have winter’s slow and painful exit.

Buddhists would say I have set myself up for stress and suffering – one part of me desiring an early spring  and the other part resisting what is present.  And they would be right. Since I’m on the path to ending suffering, there seems to be work to do here.

The first order of business is changing my thinking about spring’s arrival. If I no longer believe that spring arrives here on March 21st,  I can’t be disappointed when she doesn’t show up. So, I’m officially moving the start of spring to April 21st. This is much more realistic and a very good first start in my attitude adjustment.

Now that I’m not expecting spring until the end of April, I can move into acceptance.  I anticipate there’ll  be some exquisite days when the sap runs in the trees and our bodies will feel a joy that only people who have wintered here can really know.

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On those days, I’ll be outside breathing it all in.

It’s the other days that might be more of a challenge.  Facing challenges reminds me of a story that Fred Rogers, the creator of the children’s program Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, used to tell. He said that when he was a boy and would see scary things, his mother would say to him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” I’m wondering if a similar strategy could work in facing the challenge of a winter that never seems to end. We could seek out the helpers:

  1. Visit a local maple syrup producer and breathe in the sweet aroma of boiling sap. Have a sip of fresh maple syrup or eat some sugar on snow while we’re there.
  2. Listen and watch for the returning birds.
  3. Invite friends for dinner or meet them at a local pub or eatery.
  4. Add lighter foods to our diet – more vegetables, less carbs.
  5. Buy some tulips to add a little colour and to remember that spring has arrived in other places.
  6. Look for the beauty in the changing light, the sun’s last rays, the moon rising…

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